Organized Home

Print An Activity Binder for Stress-Free Family Vacations

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 31, 2014

Here at OrganizedHome.Com, we love 3-ring binders. That's why we adore this travel tip for families with children: use free printables to create a kid's activity binder before traveling.

Use these links to print free coloring pages, word games, puzzles and activity sheets.

Assemble a binder for each child, and add a zipper bag containing crayons, markers, pencils and game tokens to keep the kids amused for hours of peaceful drive time.

Find free printables for kids at these Web sites:

Spoonful Printables

PBSKids.org Games, Stories and Coloring Pages

TheKidzPage.com Coloring Pages

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Welcome to the Back-to-School Countdown

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 31, 2014

A new school year is on the horizon! Time to prepare for back to school, with the Organized Home Back-to-School Countdown.

Beginning on Monday August 4, we'll take two weeks to count down to the new school year. We'll work together to get organized, gear up and get ready for back-to-school.

Following an ultimate back-to-school checklist, the Back-to-School Countdown includes weekday reminders, free printables and inspiring articles to help you prepare for the first day of school.

Bookmark this page to join the fun ... and send 'em back to school from an organized home!

2014 Back-to-School Message Index
Back-to-School Printables Articles: 

Back-to-School Shopping Tips: Start Early and Save

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 23, 2014

Ah, summer! Baseball and sunshine, lemonade stands ... and back to school?

Yep. Summer or not, it's time to think about ways to save money shopping for back-to-school clothing and school supplies.

Retailers are poised to begin back-to-school promotions the instant July 4th's fireworks cease to glow.

Savvy shoppers begin planning now to get the most for their back-to-school dollar.

Hang onto your wallets! With the rise of "back to school" as a two-month marketing exercise for retailers, coupled with cash-strapped school districts placing more of the supply burden onto students' families, it can be a tough job to get the kids outfitted without breaking the bank.

Try these school shopping tips to save money, time and your sanity when shopping for back to school.

Get "in the know" before you go

Before checking so much as a single back-to-school sales flyer, you need to know two things: what you need, and what you already have on hand.

What's on the list? No need to scrabble through cluttered drawers for last year's handouts! Local discount and office supply stores now feature checklist kiosks for nearby schools; school web sites are another good source for supply lists. Download or grab each kid's checklists, then scour the house for items already on-hand.

Shop at home first--and set up Supply Central

Any item already on-hand is a bonus freebie, so check the house for rulers and protractors, pencils and binder paper.

Set aside a supply stash. One way to conquer the "where is it?" chaos: designate a box, shelf or covered records box as School Supply Central.This tip will serve you well throughout the year the year. Find that stash of 9-cent boxes of crayons or a few packs of binder paper from last summer's shopping spree? Tuck them into the box; the short stuff will know where to find new crayons when they need them in November.

Stick to your list--and your budget

School supply aisles look like toy departments these days, and kids have big gimme eyes for school-day flash and bling. Shop from your list to keep back-to-school spending within budget.

Better, use a list as an exercise in financial education. Children, as natural consumers, are easy prey to "buy-me, buy-me" pressures, so smart parents set limits during this time of year.

Once you have an idea of your child's true needs, establish a budget amount, and create a learning experience. Yes, little Jenna WILL want the pricey licensed-character backpack and the lunchbox and the binder, no matter the cost. A bit of horsetrading along the lines of, "Well, the budget will let you buy the backpack only if we choose less expensive binders" can make the limits clear--and teach financial skills at the same time.

Shop early!

Back-to-school loss leaders (products offered at prices below their actual cost to entice you into the store) begin to pop up in discount stores and office supply stores mid-July. If you can pick up loss leaders for items you know you'll need--like lined notebook paper, pencils, crayons and report folders--you'll spare the budget for big-ticket buys.

Shop around!

While shopping, keep your eyes open. These days, just about every retailer wants a piece of the back-to-school action. School supplies pop up in the oddest places, like crafts stores, dollar stores and supermarkets. Shop off the beaten path for good prices!

Shop late! //-->

While nobody wants to be caught dead dragging multiple children into the crowded school supply aisles the weekend before school opens, a short week later will see the same merchandise marked down to clearance prices--and no crowds.

Turn a deaf ear to children's pleas of "But I HAVE to have it all today!" and budget some cash for season-end discount buys.

That's the time to stock up on the basics that will be needed all year: binder paper, composition books, spiral notebooks, pencils, erasers, crayons and markers.

Seek out the stocking stuffers

If back-to-school is here, the holidays won't be far behind. Clearance-priced school supplies make great Christmas stocking stuffers. A quick trip after school begins--and once the items are marked down--can fill Santa's stockings inexpensively.

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Household Notebook: Planner for an Organized Home

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 16, 2014

So you think businesspeople are the only folks who need a personal planner?

Think again: families need an organizer, too, to keep life moving smoothly on the home front!

A planner for the entire household allows anyone--child, visitor, babysitter--easy access to the information they need. It's a one-stop information center for busy families.

How will you use it? Whether it's a carpool schedule or a co-worker's phone number, the household notebook holds the information you need to check each day. Addresses. Phone numbers. Rosters for sports teams, prayer groups or civic organizations.

Ready for an evening out? Flip the Notebook open to the "Emergency Information" page, and the babysitter will always know where to find you.

Time for dinner? Menu planners, recipe organizers and shopping list make it easy to feed the family night after night.

Clean house fast with cleaning schedules, chore lists and seasonal checklists for home maintenance. Keeping tabs on children's activities, sports team phone numbers or emergency information is as easy as flipping a divider.

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Stay-at-home parents and homeschool families add calendar and scheduling features to the household notebook, while daily morning and evening checklists and family schedules make it easy to organize life in families with small children.

Empty-nesters corral take-out menus, service club rosters and medical information to make life flow smoothly.

Ready to create your own Household Notebook?

Click the links below for more information about making and using a Household Notebook ... to get organized at home.

Conquer Chaos in the Laundry Room

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 15, 2014

Nothing can streamline an organized home like a well-crafted set of household systems, and today, we focus on laundry and clothing systems.

What do they do? How do you develop them? What benefits will establishing laundry and clothing systems give to you and your family?

Chances are, you already have these systems in place. After all, a system is just a set of organized items, decisions or actions, designed to work together to achieve a common end.

In terms of an organized home, a clothing system, for example, would be a set of related decisions, actions or items, designed to work together to supply family members with an adequate supply of clean, well-fitting and appropriate clothes.

However, there are systems, and there are systems. In a disorganized home, systems springs up unassisted. There's no thought or planning underlying them, so they don't work particularly well. Most of the time, the steps of the system are only instituted when things break down: there are no clean clothes, so someone does the wash. Yes, clothing gets clean, eventually--but there's tremendous waste of time, money, resources and family harmony built into haphazard systems.

Does this scenario describe your household's laundry system?

  • It is the morning of a family outing with parent's in-laws.
  • Child appears at breakfast table in stained, torn clothing.
  • Parent orders child to change. Child replies that he has no clean clothes.
  • Parent charges up the stairs to child's room. The floor is layered with strata of clean and dirty laundry. Dresser drawers are stuffed with wadded clothes in various states of cleanliness and presentability.
  • Parent rummages through piles on floor, scrounges through dresser drawers, and locates a clean (or fairly clean) and presentable outfit.
  • Parent orders child to put on substitute outfit. Child complains. Parent raises voice. Child whines. Veins stand out on the parental neck.
  • Child complies. The ensemble is not a success. The trousers are the variety known as "high water pants." The T-shirt sports a cracked and peeling cartoon logo. Child rolls eyes and thinks, but does not say, "I told you so!" Parent receives child's message via telepathy. Parent winces but remains silent.
  • Co-parent arrives at breakfast table wearing wrinkled shirt from ironing basket and yesterday's trousers. Co-parent's tie does not match either shirt or trousers. Co-parent slips out the door to work over the din of family discord concerning child and child's outfit.
  • After breakfast, parent rifles through dryer, searching for presentable ensemble for self for outing. Must run dryer 10 minutes to remove heat-set wrinkles. Having only five minutes for this task, parent dons semi-wrinkled jeans and top. Hopes parents-in-law will forget their eyeglasses today.
  • The family is late to the outing. The in-laws, bless them, say nothing. Parent vows to do better . . . until next time.

Yes, this family has a system--but a spontaneous, haphazard one. Clothing is not washed on a regular schedule. Washing routines are interrupted, leaving clothes to sit in washer or dryer acquiring wrinkles and mildew. Clothes are neither consigned to laundry collection points when dirty, nor put in convenient storage once clean. Out-of-season, outgrown or outworn items crowd what storage is available, leaving little or no room to store garments currently in use. New clothing is purchased on an unplanned, impulse basis--and at a higher price than necessary. Because their system is so poorly planned and executed, this family loses time, money and harmony in the daily ritual of getting dressed.

It's these resources of time, money and harmony your family stands to gain when you develop household systems. How do you craft a system to handle your family's clothing needs?

Begin with the goal

A complete clothing system has this goal: the thrifty, efficient, and routine provision of clean, well-fitting and appropriate clothing for each family member each day.

In any household systems analysis, give some thought to your own family's goal, and write it down. Beginning with the end in sight is the best way to make sure you arrive there!

Break down the actions

List them all! For your goal, write down each thing that must be done, large or small. Here are the basic tasks, decisions and action for a household laundry system:

  • Dirty clothing is delivered to collection points each day
  • Dirty clothing is transferred to laundry area from collection points
  • Laundry area contains adequate supply of detergent, softener and stain treatments, as well as tools like washer, dryer, iron and ironing board, hangers and hanging area. Supplies are replenished before they are exhausted.
  • Dirty clothing is sorted, laundered, dried and folded
  • Necessary ironing is done or delegated
  • Dry cleaning or professional laundry is delivered and collected each cycle
  • Clean clothing is returned to storage areas
  • The cycle is repeated on a regular basis
Find the stickingpoints

You know what you want and where you're going--the goal. You've got a handle on what needs to be done to reach that goal--your task list. Now it's time to analyze your system for the breakdowns.

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Our example family has several common sticking points in their laundry system.

First, there's no clear "collection routine" for dirty laundry. Dirty clothes aren't placed in a hamper or basket, but are left around at random. The family member responsible for laundering the clothing has no set place to find dirty clothes, but must scour the house looking for them.

Second, laundry isn't done on a regular schedule. Instead of washing clothes before it is absolutely necessary, this family plays a brinkmanship game, waiting until the last possible moment to start the laundry cycle. Result: tension, disruption, family disharmony and no clean clothes.

Third, because the cycle isn't started regularly, it becomes a monstrous job, often left unfinished. Pants hung directly from the dryer need no ironing. Pants left to sit in the dryer for three days will require pressing at a minimum, re-washing at worst. By postponing the job, the family's workload mushrooms.

Fourth, the family's clothing storage areas are cluttered and inefficient. Because drawers are jammed, clean clothing ends up on floors and furniture. Clothes are washed more than necessary, wearing them out prematurely--not to mention the wear and tear on the family member who must try to climb the mountain that's formed in the laundry room.

What are your family's roadblocks to an efficient laundry system? Review the necessary tasks and decide what changes will make your own system function smoothly. Will you need to purchase additional laundry baskets or hampers? Has Mt. Washmore erupted in your laundry room, requiring a laundry marathon before you can institute your system? Your own situation will show a mix of new routines and one-time catch-up chores.

Here's an idea of our family's laundry system analysis. It has two parts--the system, organized by time period, and the list of work that will have to be completed to institute the system:

Household Clothing System: Daily:
  • Family members place all dirty clothing in basket or hamper
Twice Weekly:
  • Collect, wash, dry, fold and replace laundered clothing 
  • Remove clean items in need of mending to mending basket
Weekly:
  • Check supply of detergent and laundry products; purchase replacements before the supply is exhausted 
  • Deliver any dry cleaning or laundered items to cleaners and collect last week's dry cleaning or laundered items
Monthly:
  • Scan family calendar for events requiring special clothing 
  • For those events, check to make sure each family member has appropriate clothing 
  • Mend contents of mending basket
Seasonally:
  • Inventory each family member's clothing supply 
  • Cull clothing storage of worn out, outgrown or out-of-season garments 
  •  List needed items for each family member 
  • Purchase needed items, on sale
To Catch Up:
  • Purchase laundry basket or hamper for each family member 
  • Cull and organize each family member's clothing storage area, removing outworn, outgrown, and out-of-season clothing. 
  • Store out-of-season clothing, children's clothing suitable for handing down 
  • Marathon laundry session, extinguishing laundry mountain 
  • Hold family meeting to discuss new responsibilities, delegate tasks

Through their analysis, this family has overcome the "day late, dollar short" orientation that characterized their old clothing and laundry systems. Now, to implement the analysis!

Last step: get cracking!

You've set your goal, listed the components of a basic system, performed your analysis and planned your system. Now it's time to get to work. Enter all tasks, recurring or catch-up, in your planner, calendar or home management software.

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If these are the bones of a basic family clothing system, remember, the musculature of that system can be shaped to fit any given family's needs.

A laundry system for a household with two pre-schoolers and an infant will be vastly more rigorous and time-consuming than one for an empty-nest professional couple.

Growing children can, and should, be given an opportunity to learn these life-skills. Pre-schoolers can be trained to place dirty clothing where it belongs, and can fold and replace socks and towels. Elementary school children can operate the washer and dryer and do basic ironing chores with supervision. Teens can do all of the above, plus mending and more advanced ironing.

Do delegate clothing selection and purchase to your teen! A clothing allowance teaches appearance-oriented teens to budget like no other learning experience. Don't rescue your teen when he blows his seasonal clothes allowance on that shoddy-but-fashionable logo jacket! As he shivers his way through the autumn, he will learn some home truths about value and durability, and do better next quarter.

In the end, establishing a household system--for laundry or any other home task--means embracing a simple but profound truth. Even if you ignore it, work does not go away.

Do any job efficiently and with forethought, and you'll be master of the task. To this end, a laundry system will serve you well, providing clean clothes on a regular basis, without those anguished vigils at the side of the humming dryer.

Ignore this reality, and the task will master you. You'll dance to the tune of your family's laundry needs, running the dryer at 5:30 a.m., or squirming as your children attend events in mismatched or outgrown clothes.

Who will be boss? Time to establish your household's clothing systems and scale the top of Mt. Washmore. Excelsior!

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Pardon Our Dust! Site Updates Underway

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 9, 2014

With back-to-school on the horizon--and autumn holidays close behind--it's time for site updates.

Please pardon our dust! As we work behind the scenes, there may be periods when the site is offline, or when certain features don't work correctly.

We appreciate your patience while we create a new, more organized home on the Web.

--Webmistress Cynthia

Summer Cleaning Chore Checklist

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 2, 2014

Summer's here, hot, high and sweaty. Vacations beckon. The garden takes on a life of its own.

Busy families don't have much time for home chores these months.

School's out, travel's in and it's easy to let life slide on the home front.

Still, summer will run more smoothly if you keep tabs on these important areas in the Summer Cleaning Chore Checklist.

Our summer cleaning chore checklist list tackles hot-weather issues, summer health and safety.

The Inside Story

Make the season count. Late summer is a slow time for home maintenance and cleaning companies. Look for summer discounts from carpet cleaners, gutter installers, and window washing firms, and get the jump on fall cleaning!

Think ahead to fall's cold weather. Schedule furnace maintenance now and beat the October rush. You'll be snug and warm that first cold night--and your HVAC specialist will thank you!

Prepare the medicine chest and first aid kit for summer's little medical emergencies. In the bathroom, dispose of outdated medication as recommended by local health authorities. Be sure the first aid kit has ample adhesive bandages for scrapes, calamine lotion for insect bites, and hot/cold packs for strains or sprains. Print a first-aid kit checklist for your Household Notebook.

Make an emergency list for baby-sitters and school kids on vacation. Print an emergency information page to post by each household telephone. Include phone numbers for the fire department, police, poison control, and ambulance. Don't forget numbers for parents at work, a family contact, and nearby neighbors. Be sure to write the home address on the list; it will aid rescuers if help is needed.

Tackle patio and sliding door tracks. Summer is open-door season, so be sure your doors open smoothly. Grab a bottle of all-purpose (degreasing) cleaner, a screwdriver and lots of rags. Spray the tracks generously and let sit for a few minutes to soften. Wrap the screwdriver with a rag, and make several careful passes along the track to get out the gunk.

Print vacation packing lists for family travel. Include travel packing checklist for each family member. Between vacation trips, store the lists inside the luggage or add them to your Household Notebook.

When it's time to leave, speed the family out the door with a before-we-leave travel checklist.

Check washing machine hoses. Replace them if you find cracks or bulges--or if they're over two years old.

Hold a garage sale. Declutter house and garage to turn cash to trash; make it easy with garage sale tips and a yard sale checklist.

About the House

Pest patrol: inspect yard and garden for carpenter ants or termites. Call an exterminator if you see signs of infestation. Beware of fire ants in the South! If you see telltale mounds, treat with grits or borax. Keep borax away from children.

Keep tabs on decks, siding and trim. Will you need to perform touch-up work before winter? Order paint and be ready for the first cooler days of early autumn.

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Control garbage can odor with a can clean-out.

Rinse garbage cans with a hose, dump the water, then spray with disinfectant.

Let the cans sit for 10 minutes, then rinse again. Turn upside down to dry.

Inspect gutters, and clean out any leafy debris. Summer thunderstorms won't faze you if your gutters are in good working order.

Make a safety inspection of children's outdoor play equipment. Tighten loose bolts and cover with plastic protectors.

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Travel Tips: Get Organized For Family Vacations

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on June 26, 2014

Summer's here and school's out: it's time to take to the road!

Family vacation travel can be enriching, enjoyable and exciting--but only if you're organized.

The family that fails to plan for summer travel can end up frazzled, frustrated and longing for the quiet comfort of home.

This year, get ready! Whether it's car trips, plane travel or close-to-home "stay-cation" trips, we've assembled OrganizedHome.Com's best, easiest tips to organize summer vacation travel.

What To Know Before You Go

A smooth, stress-free vacation begins well before the trip. Use these ideas to streamline vacation travel planning and preparation:

Establish Travel Central. Whether it's a new divider in a household notebook, a dedicated section in a paper planner, or a Vacation category in your handheld organizer, keep all travel information in a single location. Include contact information for airlines, car rental agencies and travel agents, passport and frequent flyer numbers, and itineraries.

The three most important factors for vacation planning? Lists, lists and more lists! Filed in Travel Central, vacation lists can include personal packing lists for each family member, a "before we leave" checklist, instructions for house-sitters, packing checklist, picnic planner checklist or camping checklist.

Enter the packing zone. As you plan and prepare, set aside an area to gather travel essentials. In addition to tickets, passports, and travel documents, add travel-sized toiletries, tissues, travel appliances and personal care items. Moving from "list" to "packed" is easier if all your gear can be viewed in one place.

Pack It Light, Pack It Right

Packing prowess separates veteran travelers from the armchair variety. Keep these ideas in mind as you pack for vacation travel:

Lighten the load. It's an old saw that still cuts--when traveling, less is more. For each family member, lay out all clothing and personal care items needed for the trip. Remove half before you pack the rest.

Investigate packing organizers. Pack clothing, socks, underwear and personal items in zipper food storage bags to cut wrinkles, protect clothing, and organize suitcases. Commercial organizers can be worth the cost for frequent travelers. Check them out!

Pack for children day-by-day. For easiest travel with kids, use large zipper food storage bags to pack a complete outfit for a single day. Tuck dirty clothing into the same bags at day's end.

Forget what mother told you, and pack your oldest underthings! Collect worn-out socks and underwear throughout the year. When traveling, wear and toss. You'll lighten the load and make room for souvenirs as you go.

Plan for T-shirts. Family vacations mean t-shirts, t-shirts, t-shirts. Deliberately under-pack, knowing you'll add these garments along the way.

Take care of yourself! Put together personal care kits for each family member in a zipper bag or cosmetics organizer. Include sample-sized bottles of shampoo, shower gel, lotion and sun block. Use motel supplies along the way to replenish care kits. At vacation's end, re-stock care kits and store inside suitcases for the next trip.

On The Road

Getting organized for family travel doesn't end when you walk out the front door! Try these strategies to keep the miles rolling ... smoothly.

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Pack the snacks! Airlines have cut back on meal and snack service, while roadside treats during car travel can be expensive and nutritionally unsound. Carry a small collapsing insulated bag and include a selection of healthy snacks to stave off the Cookie Monster.

Keep the customers satisfied. A visit to the Dollar Store can go a long way to amuse children while traveling. For maximum impact, package small toys, books, and games separately and dole them out one at a time.

Scale back on souvenirs. Don't let vacation travel saddle your household with more clutter! Instead, consider these clutter-free options: collecting small ornaments for a holiday "travel tree", purchasing postcards, assembling a scrapbook or keeping a personal travel journal to remind you of your trip.

Cut "buy me, buy me!" clamor with a Souvenir Budget. Use an envelope for each child, and deposit a small amount of cash earmarked for souvenirs at the beginning of the trip. Each child may spend the money in the envelope any way he or she chooses. Make it clear that there will be no more money forthcoming! When they control the cash, children become savvy souvenir shoppers.

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Summer Cooking Tips: Cool Off in the Kitchen!

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on June 24, 2014

Who can imagine summer without summer food?

Steaming corn-on-the-cob, each kernel bursting with sweet flavor.

Burgers and barbecue. Ice cream sundaes.

The crisp red smile of a watermelon wedge, dripping with sweet juice.

There's a darker side to summer meals. Food budgets groan under the strain of substituting quick-cook steaks and chicken breasts for thrifty stove-top casseroles.

Ravenous children make the refrigerator door thump-thump-thump like a dog's tail. Catch-as-catch-can mealtimes, eaten on the run, substitute convenience for nutritional value.

What's a summer cook to do?

With creative meal planning strategies, summer doesn't have to bust the food budget, toss nutrition to the winds, or reduce the family chef to a melted, quivering puddle reminiscent of the Wicked Witch of the West. Try these suggestions for simpler, cooler, more nutritious summer meals.

Plan your work and work your plan

Basic menu planning is useful in every season. Don't know how? Simple. Start with the weekly food sections and a half-hour of time (coffee optional). On a 3-by-5 index card, turned longways, note your supermarket's weekly specials.

Flip the card over, and list each day of the coming week. Take a moment and think about your calendar. No sense planning an elaborate gourmet meal when it's your day to work Cub Scout Day Camp!

Using the week's specials, match simple entrees with busy days, more elaborate meals with at-home evenings.

Pencil your choices next to each day, and go about your shopping—but don't finalize your menu plan until you get home. Who knows when the Great Grocery Gurus will send a beautiful bit of salmon or a mega-bargain on boneless chicken breasts your way?

Once home, match the food you bought with the food you've planned, and ink in the coming week's menus. Check pantry and vegetable crisper for salad and side dish components ... and relax!

For a final, sure-fire bit of motivation, post your menu plan prominently on the refrigerator door. Nothing like knowing the family is drooling for tonight's microwaved meatloaf to energize a reluctant cook!

Use everything but the oven

In summer, wedding-gift appliances earn their storage space. A rice steamer makes perfect rice, every time, with no excess heat to fog your kitchen. Spicy chili in the crockery slow-cooker is a super ending to a day at the park.

A pressure cooker can prepare family favorites in a fraction of the time—or kitchen temperature—needed by an oven. Hot bread from an automatic bread machine makes a light summer meal more substantial.

Finally, take a tip from our Southern friends, and cook chickens, roasts, or stews in a portable roaster, outside on the porch!

Make use of the microwave //-->

Everyone knows that you can pop your Orville Redenbacher's in the microwave oven, but did you know that this versatile appliance can bake potatoes, cook a roast, or bake the moistest cake you've ever tasted?

Dig out the recipe book that came with your microwave and try a new technique.

The microwave's speed makes it a natural for summer cooking, and it won't overheat the kitchen—or the cook!

Enjoy summer's bounty

Children, even dyed-in-the-wool vegetable haters, love choosing dinner from vegetable gardens or roadside produce stands.

Serve a vegetable meal, with corn-on-the-cob, sliced tomatoes, and washed raw vegetables. Don't forget the fat-free ranch dressing for dipping!

When you do cook, make it count

Firing up the gas grill? Don't stop with just tonight's entree of barbecued chicken breasts. Add several more pieces and hold the barbecue sauce.

Next night, serve half of the chicken shredded, over salad, and add dressing made from walnut oil and raspberry vinegar. The following night, reheat the remaining chicken, shredded, with salsa, crushed garlic, a squeeze of lime juice and a dash of oregano, and serve delicious chicken fajitas, wrapped in steaming flour tortillas. Cook once, but plan to eat at least three times.

Delegate!

Even die-hard non-cooking spouses have an elemental attraction to the open flame, signified in our society by the barbecue grill. Let them at it!

Add vegetable kabobs and foil-wrapped corn-on-the cob to the evening's grilled entree for the full, flame-kissed experience.

Pick a packet

Children can help, too. School-aged children enjoy making packet dinners to cook over the grill.

For each family member, place a square of heavy-duty aluminum foil on the counter.

Peel a potato, then use the potato peeler to shave about half an inch of thin-sliced potato in a burger-sized round on top of each square of foil. Sprinkle the potato with pepper and a shake of dehydrated onions.

Shape ground beef into a thin patty, and place on top of the potato mixture. Top the patty with another half-inch of potato, some more pepper and dehydrated onion.

To enclose the packet, bring two sides of the tinfoil together and fold down at least three times. Do the same with each open end.

Grill for about 45 minutes over a medium heat, turning each packet once. A real child pleaser, packet dinners give the cook the night off!

Pre-pack a picnic basket

An organized home manager outfits a picnic basket with tablecloth, napkins, disposable plates and utensils and lots of plastic cups.

Add a can opener and some serving spoons, and include wheat crackers, and firm cookies like animal crackers.

Keep it in the car trunk, next to your ice chest. Next time it's dinner at the soccer field, toss peeled, washed veggies from the vegetable bin, the bottle of fat-free dressing, a can of barbecued beans, fruit, and sliced cheese into the basket, and go.

Take that, Colonel Sanders!

Think drinks!

Does your freezer contain some of those marvelous, plastic-gel coolers? It should. A jug of iced decaffeinated tea or fruit juice, snuggled up against a gel cooler or two inside your auto-trunk ice chest quenches thirst without the calories and caffeine—not to mention expense—of fast-food sodas.

Consider, too, outfitting each family member with personalized plastic water bottles. Stored in the refrigerator, they'll help keep water consumption up, and they're easy to grab on the way out the door.

Outfit your car for summer //-->

A summer auto survival kit makes it easy to enjoy the season.

An empty, lightweight ice chest is invaluable for bringing frozen groceries home from the supermarket.

Add a jug of water and a stack of washcloths or cleaning cloths in a plastic bag, and you can handle sticky hands and sandy faces anywhere.

Happy Summer!

Most of all, enjoy the summer fun. Say "yes" to your children, whether it's Ice Cream Sundaes for Dinner or Can We Have A Lemonade Stand?

Summer is a time for making memories. With a little planning and preparation, the organized home manager can create golden days that will light a child's mind for life.

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School's Out! Summer Survival for Busy Moms

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on June 3, 2014

They're here! Tumbling from the school bus, fresh from Field Day, with papers and projects and petrified sandwiches spilling in their wake: your children.

Summer vacation is wonderful, no doubt about it.

Damp heads and wet bathing suits, backyard tents and fireflies in canning jars.

"Look, Mom!" rings out a hundred times a day, from the top of the pool slide to the bug-dotted bottom of an upturned rock.

Here comes the Kool-Aid Mom! She's all sweet smile and tidy clothes, calling cheerful children from the corners of the yard with a bell-like voice and tray of sweating, jewel-toned glasses.

Then comes the second day of summer vacation.

Sibling fights, tracked-in dirt, non-stop television. A complete and utter absence of clean towels. Your teen snarls from the dark corners of his room, while younger children taunt one another and squabble over the television remote. The tooth-gritting "Eh-oh!" from pre-dawn screenings of "Teletubbies" takes the place of an alarm clock.

Watch your step! That Kool-Aid stretches in sticky dribbles from the refrigerator handle, across the floor, over every counter, and out the back door. Over it all hovers the perpetual whine of "Mom! I'm bored!"

Smart home managers give some thought to summertime survival, and they do it now, before the deluge. Ponder these pointers to fine-tune home, schedule, soul and sanity for the upcoming summer season:

Simplify Your Surroundings

"Bring the outside in!" is summer's theme, in more ways than one. From banging doors to trailing dishes, your home will be turned inside out, more way-station and supply depot than a series of dedicated rooms.

Summer is no time for the delicate, the costly, the special because all of the above will be (1) dirtied, (2) lost, or (3) broken by summer's end.

It makes sense to strip for action. Don't want the pretty embroidered master-bath linens to hit the backyard trail? Bundle them up and hide them for the summer.

Replace them with a shabby set of wedding-gift towels, and be grateful! September's sane and slower pace will mean time to bring back the ruffles and flourishes. They'll be all the more treasured for the protective time out.

Remove breakables from child-height surfaces to protect them from racing children--your own, their guests, and a few neighborhood interlopers who saw the fun and just joined in. Summer decor should be functional, so round up the "objets" into boxes and make room for the Bug House centerpiece, complete with dead bug. My dear, you are so Chez Summer!

Replace glass drinking glasses with plastic mega-slurp freebies from convenience stores and fast food establishments. You won't whimper when drinkware is used to excavate tunnels for the gerbil or worry about little ones running with glasses in their hands.

Chill Out In The Kitchen

In the kitchen, less is also more. Strip down meal planning and menus to match summer's relaxed schedule. Who needs to sweat over a hot stove when the gas grill is at hand? Try for a few simple standards for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and save the recipe tryouts and gourmet meals for the crisp and energized days of autumn.

A few simple preparations will save you, Mom, endless hours of "pour me, feed me" over the coming months.

Personally, I wish to kiss the wonderful engineer who invented the little whale-spout water dispenser attached to Moby Dick The Great White Refrigerator. Even little ones can pour their own ice water, if you put plastic glasses within reach and tuck a cotton area rug under Moby's toes to catch the inevitable overspray.

Prepare a large jug of your family's "house wine" each morning, whether it's fruit juice, powdered drink mix or iced tea, and tuck it in a self-dispensing plastic beverage container on a refrigerator shelf. Now, if only they would invent a self-closing refrigerator door.

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Establish a "snack site" within child reach and you're a step ahead of ravenous children.

Include healthy options like fruit, raw veggies, string cheese, animal crackers, popcorn, raisins and dried cereal instead of sugar-filled cookies or greasy potato chips.

Bundle all of the above into a large plastic food storage container, label it "Snacks" with a permanent marker, and put it on a low refrigerator shelf.

Encourage independent lunch preparation by doing the same with all sandwich makings: PB&J, jar of mayo, floppy packs of lunch meat and cheese, cello pack of washed lettuce all stuffed into large open container labeled "Sandwich Makings." You pull the box out, you make your sandwich, and you replace the box.

Bring Sanity to Summer Scheduling

Opinion time. Today's parents are earnest and concerned and want the best for their children. Art lessons, Kumon math, gymnastics and Kinder-musik compete for our children's time. Soccer and Little League demand total family loyalty and the sacrifice of every dinner hour for a three-month season.

Each summer, there's golf camp and computer camp and swimming lessons and Cub Scout Day Camp (shudder, shudder, twitch, twitch, says the old den mother)--and Mom's in the van for every single one. Whatever happened to that staple directive of mothers everywhere, "Go out and play!"? Will this summer give your children time to be a kid?

It's curious, what we do. We over-schedule our children from age 2 to early adolescence. Then they dive into the relative aimlessness of the peer group at age 13 without the internal resources necessary to keep them out of mischief. Why? Because they've experienced Parent-As-Social-Director and have never learned to amuse and engage themselves.

Enough already! This year, consider giving your school-aged children the ultimate Status Kid gift: free time.

Time to dream, time to grow, time to stretch out on the hammock and read a novel from cover to cover. Time to build elaborate fantasy worlds in the backyard sand pile. Time to squabble with siblings and time to resolve the issue without Mom's intervention.

Time to learn: to knit, to cook, to sew. Time to build model rockets. Time to open a lemonade stand on the corner. Time to mow a few neighborhood lawns for money, and time to dawdle at the mall in the spending of it. Time to hold a mega-Monopoly tournament and decide the ruler of the world.

Ignore the veiled sneers of the Pool Mommies: "What? You don't have little Suzy enrolled in Compu-Learn for Tots? Don't you worry that she'll fall behind the other 3-year-olds and never be able to get into a good pre-school?"

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In carving out time for play, you give your children the most valuable skill of all: the ability to nourish and sustain themselves.

Long after they've forgotten the Comp-U-Tot drills on "this is the SEE-prompt!", they'll know how to search within themselves for resources, for interests, and for entertainment.

This is how you create strong, independent, resourceful adults with a true zest for living.

Your teens? Do it the other way, and keep them busy. Summer jobs may be hard to find for younger teens, but volunteer work gives young people of any age the invaluable gift of learning to contribute.

Let them help at the Food Bank, in local libraries, and summer day camps. Herd them, bleating and moaning, to your area's Habitat for Humanity house and put a hammer in their hands.

Hire them to paint the house, shampoo the carpets, detail the car. Ignore their complaints.

Give your teens the gift of usefulness and the joy of productive work. The experience of being a young adult taking a first few steps into an adult world is far, far more valuable than another summer lolling around the pool, gawking at swimsuit-clad peers. They'll thank you for it, too, in 25 years or so!

Savor Summer's Fleeting Sweetness

Summer is a special time for mothers, too. Snuggling small wet bodies in sun-warmed towels. Bringing late-night snacks--and a welcome reminder of home and safety--to first-time back-yard tent campers. Teaching a child to cook Grandmother's Banana Pudding, and sharing stories of your own childhood as you stir.

Reading the whole of "Harriet the Spy" to a wide-eyed 8-year-old. Shopping for a 13-year-old daughter's first "junior" bathing suit and not wincing at how womanly she suddenly looks. Supporting (and surviving) a 16-year-old's first job search.

Summer is not just for kids! Reach for that sweetness, Mom. Make time for it, between working and shopping and following the ant trails and paying the power bills.

It is the stuff that life is made of, after all!

Printables: 

Moving On: Tips For An Organized Move

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on May 5, 2014

Every year, one in five American families makes a move --- and this year, it'll be your family on the road.

No doubt about it, moving can present the organizational challenge of a lifetime.

Every habit, every routine, every tiny piece of the mosaic of your life is tossed at random into a huge, cluttered van, to be shaken out and reassembled at the other end. 

It's a daunting task--but you can get organized and cut stress when the moving van arrives.

Moving on? Try these road-tested tips for an organized move.

Establish Move Central, and Make It Portable

Moving has more tentacles than an octopus. Between wooing The Amazing Disappearing Handyman at the old house and penetrating the layers of voice mail protecting The High-Tech Realtor at the new, you're making more calls than an old-time switchboard operator. It's easy to lose your mind along with your train of thought --- not to mention all those little business cards that will come your way.

Enter Move Central: a notebook dedicated to the move.

Even if you never use a planner at home or on the job, a business planner or moving notebook is more important to a move than boxes and tape. Find one at the local office supply store. Get one with big pages, one for each day, and throw in some business card holders, zipper pouches and receipt envelopes.

How will you use it? Let me count the ways. During the crazy pre-move house-hunting days, you'll track phone calls, make notes on houses you've toured, and gather phone numbers for the gazillion new close friends you'll make --- all those realtors and rental agents and mortgage people and moving-van guys and handymen you'll come to know and loathe quite intimately in the coming weeks. Tuck all business cards into their own little slots for easy reference. Make notes of the seventeen consecutive days you've spent trying to track down the Tile Man (after he's gotten your money but before you've seen Tile One go up on the kitchen wall).

Cram snippets of flooring and wallpaper, paint swatches and drapery goods into a see-through zipper pouch for at-the-store decorating reference.

Dedicate one receipt envelope for those fix-up-the-old-place receipts. Another receipt envelope holds receipts generated by house-hunting trips and travel to your new home. Stuff everything in there, and you'll thank yourself at tax time!

After the move, you'll use Move Central to schedule appointments to turn on your lights, water, cable and other essentials of life. If a neighborhood mom mentions a good pediatrician, note the name and you're ahead of the game! Tuck a local map into a flap or pocket, and you'll always be able to get yourself where you're going --- even if you don't always get there very directly.

Treat Move Central as just another body part --- it should be with you always. Handles and outside pockets let it replace your purse. Yes, you'll develop a permanent list to one side from the weight, but like that caused by a hip-hugging toddler, it's temporary. Having all your information in one place right at hand is key to a smooth and sane move.

Pack the Essentials Last

The concept of the "Survival Box" is one dear to the hearts of all moving advisers and organizational experts. You know what that is, right? It's a box containing the essentials of life: coffeemaker and children's nighttime loveys, bed sheets and blankets and pillows, an alarm clock.

Paint it red, plaster it with Little Mermaid stickers, do something to it so it stands out like a sore thumb, and put it in the truck last, so it's first out in the new house.

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Your Survival Box should contain all those items you'll need for the first day and night in your new home.

With small children, think about including dishes, cereal and the paraphernalia of a family breakfast.

As a mid-lifer, I've honed essentials of life down to a very individual list: traveling coffeemaker and supplies, portable computer, and Perry, my teddy bear.

Your Survival Box will reflect your own family's needs.

Don't stop there! Think bigger than a single box. Those same small children can be entertained quite handily if you pack the boxes containing television, DVD player and disks at the back end of the truck! Will you need cleaning tools and a vacuum? A tool box to assemble furniture and hang art? Think about your immediate needs, and hold those essentials back until the bitter end.

First shall be last and last shall be first, so to speak.

"There Is No Such Thing As Too Many Labels"

"Real" organizational experts, those paragons with the alphabetized spices, often espouse complicated moving "systems" involving inventories, color-coded marker pens, and lots of lists. My hand aches just to think about it!

Here in at Organized Home, we practice guerilla home management: translation, "reality". We all know what happens to all those good, color-coded intentions: 243 boxes marked "misc." in illegible hand with a nearly-dry marker pen. Then in the new house, you get to play "hunt the bed sheets" and a good time will not be had by anyone.

For computer users, there's a simple solution. One that will ensure that all your boxes make it to the room where they belong with minimal effort. One that eliminates writer's cramp and all those "where's the marker?" fights with other family members.

Labels. Computer-generated labels. Hundreds of them. Repeat after me: "There is no such thing as too many labels."

You will go to the office supply store. You will purchase a large box of the cheapest computer labels available for your computer printer. If you have an old tractor-feed printer in the kids' room somewhere, it's perfect for this task.

Open any word processor. Do what you have to do to tell it to make labels --- they're pretty easy to instruct these days. Then make several hundred --- yes, I said, several hundred --- labels for your boxes, a hundred or so for each room or area in your house:

  • Kitchen
  • Living room
  • Family room
  • Master bedroom
  • Girl bedroom
  • Boy bedroom
  • Bathroom
  • Storage

Load that printer up and let it chug out your labels while you go try and find Tile Man one more time. You'll end up with stacks and stacks of labels. Next step: get 'em on the boxes.

This one's easy. Give each packer, whether you pay somebody else or assign the chore to your not-at-all-cheerful family, a stack of labels for whatever room s/he is packing. As each box is packed, just slap a label in the upper-left-hand corner of every side of the box.

Yes, I said "upper-left-hand corner". Trust me. It's where the names are written in nursery school. That's the place everyone looks first --- so that's where the label goes. And yes, I said "on every side of the box". That means four labels per box, one per side.

This is not overkill. At the new house, you will thank yourself. No straining the back flipping the box to find the side with the label. No hoisting six different boxes to find the designation printed so neatly on the top of the box. One glance and anybody can figure out where that baby goes.

How? Because you're going to take some sheets of paper and label every room: "Master Bedroom", "Kitchen", "Family Room." Tape a nice little sign above the door to every room. Paid movers, volunteer helpers or unwilling teens, they'll all know what goes where with a single glance.

Finally, decide where you want your storage boxes to live until you can sort them out. Tape a "Storage" sign high up on that wall, whether it's garage or extra bedroom or the long wall in your master bedroom.

Get things close to where they belong, and you've won half the unpacking battle!

Keep Your Sense of Adventure

Let's be honest. For a wife and mother, there's more riding on any move than her own well-being. Husbands, bless 'em, tend to see the process in terms of dollars and moving companies and estimates and utility deposits.

For women, a move is infinitely more complex. Have we found a neighborhood that will meet our children's needs? How do we cope with a teen's anger at being uprooted, while coaxing him toward acceptance of and openness to his new community? It's not just a roof we seek, but church and school, doctors and vets, parks and playgrounds --- all the tiny, glowing facets of the quilt of our family's life must be weighed, considered, and replaced, and the job, my friends, is ours.

But have you ever considered the possibilities of a move? For all but the most ruthlessly self-disciplined among us, a move is the only chance we have to pull back, reexamine our lives, and try on a new identity!

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Who among us hasn't rued that an interest, whether it be our children's sports teams or gardening or church work or even a cherished career, has gobbled more time and energy than we ever intended in the first place?

By moving --- informed moving --- we can restore balance to that lopsided area of our lives. We have a clean slate, write on it as we will.

Did the teenaged girl you used to be live for the theatre--- but you haven't trodden the boards since senior year?

By shoving you into the market of potential, a move gives you the space, time and incentive to rediscover that hidden Thespian, even though you may shake and shiver as you walk in the door of the Little Theatre in your new home.

Are you moving? It means more than exchanging one house, one town, one state for another. Think of the butterfly. If it never moved from caterpillar quarters, the world would be deprived of an awful lot of bright, colorful, fluttering wings!

Free Printable Signs For Garage or Yard Sales

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on April 21, 2014

It's Spring! Flowers are blooming, birds are singing ... and the voice of the yard sale shopper is heard in the land.

Thinking of holding a garage sale or yard sale this year? We've got everything you need to cut your clutter and score some cash with our garage sale tips--but if you're looking for more help, try these free printables for yard sale success:

Printable Yard Sale Checklist and Signs

Printable Garage Sale Signs from PaperPrintouts.com

Free Printable Garage Sale Sign from Hoover Web Design

Topics: Free PrintablesGarage Sales

Frugal Order: A Tightwad's Guide To Getting Organized

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on April 11, 2014

Getting organized! For many, that phrase is synonymous with "Buy Me!"

Savvy retailers know that "Get Organized Fever" breaks out at predictable intervals, and tailor ad campaigns to capitalize on the desire to create an organized home. Too often, professional organizers hear the cry, "But I can't afford to get organized!"

No doubt about it, there are many marvelous products on the market to help achieve better home and personal organization.

But getting organized doesn't necessarily require spending money. Try these tips to get organized without becoming a spendthrift.

Don't confuse "getting organized" with "buying stuff"

Pick a yard sale, any yard sale. Chances are, some pretty pricey organizing products will be included in the seller's merchandise.

Rotating plastic turntables. Bathroom shelf units. Specialty organizers like can holders, tie racks and shelf extenders. All on sale for a tiny fraction of their retail price--and all mute witnesses to a would-be organizer who confuses "getting organized" with "buying stuff."

There's a difference between organization and the products you'll use to achieve that goal. Organization is a process, not a product. It involves time and thought, motivation and effort--and you can't buy these factors in any store. No tangible item, no matter how useful, can set you on the road to better organization all by itself.

The moral is: nobody ever got organized by buying stuff. Instead, they ended up holding a garage sale.

Organize first, measure next, buy last

People who are frugal and organized understand how the organization process works: they organize first, measure next, and buy--if they buy--last.

Take a common problem: magazine storage. Too often, our home manager will say to herself, "Oh, I have to do something about those stacks of magazines." She'll eyeball the stacks, grab the car keys, and head to the store.

At the store, she'll buy a set of 12 nifty plastic magazine organizers in a pretty color to match the family room drapes. Home she goes--only to find that the organizers are one-half inch too tall to fit in the family room bookcase, and that she'll need 8 more containers to hold the entire pile.

Wallet drained and energy depleted, she drops the whole project. The plastic magazine organizers are thrust in a dark closet where they join the household clutter awaiting the next yard sale.

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Frugal organizers know the steps required to solve the magazine problem.

First, they assess and sort the magazines. They'll keep only 20% of the pile:. those periodicals which they read each month and to which they refer back often.

After recycling the rejected 80%, the frugal organizer will plan and measure available storage areas. Can the collection of Family Fun be shelved in the existing bookcase? Out comes the tape measure.

Only after having assessed and sorted, planned and measured, does a frugal organizer shop for organizational products--and she does it with a list.

Our frugal friend now knows that she needs four magazine storage boxes, each at least 3 inches wide and no more than 12 inches tall. Next yard sale, she'll buy just what she needs--and no more--to organize the magazines. Problem solved, frugally.

Watch for freebie finds and recycling candidates

Tightwad organizers know that organizing solutions are everywhere. They keep their eyes out for free sources of organizing materials, and don't hesitate to make creative use of found or surplus items.

Warehouse stores--where packing materials are recycled to hold purchases--are a frugal organizer's bowl of cherries. If you have to store it, so do retail stores. Warehouse stores give the goodies away, free, each time you shop. To pick the cherries, eyeball the box pile and make your selections before you begin shopping.

Reinforced cardboard magazine holders masquerade in the guise of office supply display boxes. Boxes designed to hold cold cuts serve to stack cleaning towels in the utility closet.

Two-part produce boxes hold stored clothing in the attic. Recycled wine cases (with dividers!) organize the wine cellar at home just as well as they did in the warehouse store--and do double duty storing delicate Christmas ornaments or surplus glassware.

Don't like seeing the hotdog label each time you open the utility closet? Paint the boxes or cover them with surplus fabric. The price is right!

Recycled packaging can give organizational efforts a frugal boost. Mothers of young children recycle baby wipes packages to hold toys-of-a-thousand-pieces.

Thinking about family preparedness? Empty bleach bottles store water and purify it at the same time, as long as you don't rinse the empty container first.

Boxes that first hold bottled water moonlight as containers for newspaper recycling, and are themselves flattened and recycled on trips to the recycling center. It's a win-win!

Use creativity, not cash

Frugal organizers think past the label and outside the box. Even when they must purchase an item to complete an organization project, they make creative--if unintended--use of common products.

Why buy a pricey "thread organizer" from the crafts store, when you can store tall spools of thread in a lipstick holder from the Dollar Center?

Ever notice that the same item, say, a plastic box with dividers and a lid, can have three different prices when labeled as (1) a box for fishing tackle, (2) a box for small hardware items, and (3) a box to hold cross-stitch thread? 

Is there a cheaper alternative? Tightwad organizers cross-check before they shell out.

Frugal organizers aren't shy about adapting ideas, either. Our frugal friend admired a cross-stitch pattern organizer she'd seen at the crafts store. Each pattern leaflet was threaded onto a plastic bar with three holes. The whole unit could be stored in a large three-ring binder.

At home, the frugal organizer realized that the expensive plastic holders weren't necessary, if she simply used a three-hole punch on the pattern leaflet itself.

Hit the yard sale circuit

Organizer products are like curtains--they go with the house. The nifty wall-hung mop-and-broom rack that worked so well in one home gives way to a smaller
version after moving to another state. 

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Shelf racks that worked wonders in an apartment closet are too narrow for the pantry in a new, more spacious house.

The hanging shower organizer that was just right in one bathroom slips right off the shower head in the next.

Result? A whole set of homeless organizing products.

Between moving house and unplanned, impulse purchases, organizing products are a yard sale staple. If you know what you need, you're likely to find it at a yard sale sooner or later.

Don't be put off by dust and stains; plastic products clean up nicely in the dishwasher.

Make your list and hit some yard sales. You'll get organized . . . for less!